Kristin Olson, a very special aunt, remembered
Photo: Seventeen of nineteen nieces and nephews attended the celebration of life of Kristin Olson Three generations of nieces and nephews gathered in Vancouver on July 1 to celebrate the life of Kristin Olson, the aunt who had a car, a career and fascinating friends. Kristin, who was born on February 2, 1917 at the family farm in Churchbridge, died in Victoria on December 5, 2011. A teacher, a member of the Women’s Division of the R.C.A.F., and the founder of CKOS TV in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, Kristin was also the aunt who, without children of her own, took great interest and joy in her nieces and nephews.
The memorial to Kristin began by honouring her grandparents, Kristin and Magnus Hinrikson, who had the courage to leave their families in Iceland in 1887 and to move to the new settlement of Thingvalla in the North West Territory. They lived with friends and Magnus worked as a labourer building the Canadian railroad until filing for a homestead.
They moved into their first home in January 1891 with their two-year-old daughter Ingebjorg (Imba), Aunt Kristin’s mother. In 1905 they built another home in a better farming area, selling it in 1918 to their daughter Imba and her husband Alexander Oscar Olson who met at the University of Manitoba, where they both graduated in Agriculture.
Magnus Hinrikson greatly regretted his lack of formal education, but pursued self-education with fervour. Judge Walter Lindal, his son-in-law, wrote, “He was not limited in his reliance upon himself to achieve the ability to understand the Old Norse language, the Icelandic culture, the sagas and the Eddas and also could express himself flawlessly in both English and Icelandic.” He loved and collected books, owning an extensive library, including all seven volumes of Stephan G. Stephanson’s poems. It was not surprising that he wanted all three of his daughters to be well educated: Ingebjorg in Agriculture, Jorunn in Law and Elin in Education, a remarkable achievement for a family, let alone women, in the early 1900s.
Judge Lindal also wrote that a sign of Magnus Hinrikson’s good judgment was in choosing Kristin to be his wife. She was proficient in carding, spinning and knitting with the wool from their sheep. She provided clothing for the family but also supplemented the farm income by selling her woollen goods and butter and cream from the farm. Kristin was also a gracious hostess to their many visitors.
The Hinriksons celebrated their 50th Anniversary in 1937 and Magnus died later that year. In 1939, Kristin was named Dame of the Order of the Falcon by King Christian of Denmark and Iceland in recognition of the contribution she and Magnus made to the perpetuation of the Icelandic language and culture in Canada. She died in 1943 in Churchbridge. Both Hinriksons are laid to rest at Thingvalla, which they helped establish and which is the oldest Icelandic cemetery west of Manitoba.
Their daughter Imba and son-in-law Oscar Olson had five children, Baldur Magnus, Margaret, Harold, Kristin and Magnus (Max). The Olsons were self-sufficient, with a large herd of cattle and other livestock, mixed grains, hay fields and a huge garden. In a letter, Ruth Hilland, daughter of Jo and Judge Walter Lindal, recalled the summers she spent with her cousins on the Olson farm: “I can recall every room of the old house – the huge kitchen table which seated the whole family, five children and hired hands, two or three and more at thrashing time. Meals were huge and the men ate like horses. In addition coffee and cakes and pies were sent out every morning and afternoon to the field. The girls, Margaret, Kristin, Imba and a hired girl, spent all their time in the kitchen. A basement below the kitchen was lined with hundreds of preserves, fruit, vegetables, jam, pickles and meat. It was accessed by a trap door in the kitchen, and of course despite many warnings I came racing in one day and fell through, to the horror of everyone. And I shall never forget the ice cream. Every Sunday the ice cream maker came out, the boys took turns turning the handle and the ice cream was fantastic!” There was a lot of work but also lots of fun. Ruth remembers concerts and dances, many held in the Olson barn.
Tragedy struck the family when Oscar contracted a terrible infection, which only a decade later likely would have responded to antibiotics. He died on February 4, 1939, at age 54. In 1954, Imba moved to Nanaimo where she lived with Kristin until her death in 1956.
Seventeen of the 19 sur-viving grandchildren of Imba and Oscar attended the celebration and each one had an opportunity to recall the extraordinary relationship they shared with their Aunt Kristin. At the celebration, the highlights of Kristin’s life were covered. As well, those present offered charming anecdotes from many different perspectives.
Born on the family farm in Churchbridge, Saskatchewan, Kristin attended the University of Manitoba and the University of Saskatchewan, qualifying as a high school teacher. While attending U of M she boarded with her Aunt Jorunn (Jo) and Uncle Walter Lindal in Winnipeg. Room and board was paid by the delivery of a five gallon can of cream shipped from the farm. After teaching for six years in Saskatchewan, she spent three years in the Women’s Division of the R.C.A.F. and then returned to teach in Nanaimo, BC.
In 1958 she left teaching and entered a whole new career, partnering with her brother Harold in establishing CKOS Television in Yorkton, Saskatchewan. She was Program Director and also had her own interview show which dealt with topics of current interest. A 1959 newspaper article, which delighted her no end, said, “In the comparatively new industry of television it is somewhat a departure from the orthodox to find a female program director. As one observes this alert young woman purposely going about her duties at CKOS-TV, either at her desk or in the studio where, as an interviewer on “Of Interest to You” she ties loose ends of information into a thoroughly interesting and delightful program, it is obvious she has found her niche. CKOS has a dedicated program director and she is every bit as capable as her male counterparts.”
After selling CKOS in 1963, Kristin moved to Winnipeg where she and Harold established two more businesses. In 1970, she took a job in the University of Manitoba Registrar’s office and remained there until her retirement in 1983. She was active in the Soroptomist Club and the Canadian Federation of University Women.
She travelled frequently to Iceland and felt very at home there. After Margaret’s husband Terry died, Kristin and Margaret lived together in New Westminster. One of their great joys were winter trips to Hemet, California. When Margaret died, Kristin moved to a retirement home in Burnaby and in her final year to the Parkwood Retirement Home in Victoria.
In her later years, Kristin, the last surviving member of Oscar and Imba’s family, would greet visitors with a list of questions that she wanted to be sure would cover them and their families. The last niece to visit her the day before her stroke recalled how sharp her mind was, displaying as always her keen interest in every family member. She had taken up cribbage to add to her love of bridge, scrabble, politics and the Blue Jays. She could whip most people at all of her favourite games and never tired of a good political discussion.
Kristin was tall, elegant and eloquent and wore wonderful clothes and jewellry. She was the aunt who had a car, a career, and fascinating friends and who took a special interest in each of her nieces and nephews. Kristin is greatly missed by all who knew her but all agreed that she left a wonderful legacy for the succeeding generations.